Amanda Clark/WUFT News
As the winter season draws to a close this month, the recorded number of manatee deaths has fallen by about 70 percent.
According to a visual census conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, as of March 7, only 87 manatee fatalities have been reported, as opposed to 281 this time last year.
Researchers conducting the visual census reported just over 4,800 living manatees, the third-highest number since 1991.
Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for Florida’s Save the Manatees Club, said although the higher manatee population is good news, the endangered species still faces serious issues.
“I think we have more than we did 30 years ago, whether or not they’re better off,” Tripp said.
The pressures and threats manatees face are still significant.
Manatees are easily affected by environmental factors like cold water, she said. They thrive in warmer temperatures. When water is too cold, manatees can develop a condition called cold stress syndrome, a natural cause of death.
“That’s why they go to our fresh water springs in northern Florida,” she explained. “So, if we have very chronically record cold temperatures like we did several winters ago, manatees can die by the hundreds if they just fail to find sufficient warm water.”
Cold stress syndrome is not the only threat manatees face. Many manatees are affected by red tide, a harmful algae bloom, and Tripp said the natural phenomenon is aggravated by factors people can control.
Being conscious of water consumption throughout the state will provide more water to the manatees and minimize potentially harmful nutrients from fertilizer runoff, farming and phosphorus mining.
“All the water that we use primarily comes from ground water, and it’s ground water that bubbles up to our fresh water springs and provides habitat for manatees,” she said. “So, the more that we’re using in our homes (and) in our yards is less water that’s remaining in the environment for them.”
Marisa Ross edited this story for online.